Commercial Mobile Service Providers (CMSP) allow authorized message originators to send public safety alerts and warnings to mobile phones through IPAWS). A participating wireless provider may apply to FEMA to connect to IPAWS to send Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to their subscribers.
In December 2019, FEMA enhanced the capabilities of wireless emergency alerts used by federal, state, local, tribal and territorial emergency management and public safety officials.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system delivers critical warnings and public safety information to the public on mobile devices. Participation by wireless service providers is voluntary, but most providers support WEAs. Those providers that participate adhere to technical and operational requirements established by the FCC.
Authorized alerting authorities send WEAs through IPAWS to participating wireless providers, which then broadcast the alerts from cellular towers to mobile devices in affected areas.
Specific features applicable to WEAs include:
- Supports up to 360 characters
- Supports English and Spanish languages
- Supports URLs and phone numbers
- Rebroadcast of WEA for alert duration
- Ability to update and/or cancel active WEA
- Unique tone and vibration
- Geo-targeted fences alert capabilities with less than one-tenth of a mile of overshoot
WEAs use SMS-Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB), a one-to-many service that simultaneously delivers messages to multiple recipients in a specified area. By using SMS-CB, WEAs avoid the congestion issues experienced by traditional voice and text messaging (SMS Point -to-Point) alerting services, which translates into faster and more comprehensive delivery of messages during times of emergency.
Wireless providers must comply with the technical and operational requirements established in the Code of Federal Regulations Title 47, Part 10. The rules for Wireless Emergency Alerts, including participation procedures, infrastructure requirements, and message elements are all found in Part 10.
How to Apply to Send Wireless Emergency Alerts
IPAWS uses a standardized process to ensure that all voluntarily participating Commercial Mobile Service Providers are duly authorized and vetted in accordance with FCC regulations.
The following information is for CMSPs interested in, or currently participating in, WEA and IPAWS.
Step #1 – Select WEA-Compatible Solution
The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions published the standards that define the interface between the Federal Alert Gateway, or IPAWS, and the CMSP Gateway for WEA alerts. The applicable standards are known as “J-STD-101” and “J-STD-102.”
Step #2 – Request Memorandum of Agreement /Interconnectivity Security Agreement from FEMA for Testing
CMSPs must request the requisite Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)/Interconnectivity Security Agreement (ISA) documents governing the connectivity and system security related to the test system from FEMA, and they must be executed between the CMSP/service provider, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Each MOA/ISA is specifically tailored to the sponsoring organization. Test environment MOA/ISA materials are available by sending an email to IPAWS@fema.dhs.gov.
Upon receipt of the signed MOA/ISA documents from the CMSP, the documents are routed for signature by FEMA’s IPAWS office, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, and DHS, in that order. Upon completion of the signature process, fully executed copies are provided to the CMSP so that testing can begin.
Step #3 – Request MOA/ ISA for Production
The CMSP must request the requisite MOA/ISA documents governing the connectivity and system security related to the production (live) system from FEMA and they must be executed as in Step #2 above. Production environment MOA/ISA materials are available by sending an email to IPAWS@fema.dhs.gov.
Upon receipt of the signed MOA/ISA documents from the CMSP, the documents are routed for signature as in Step #2 above. Upon completion of the signature process, fully executed copies are provided to the CMSP so that production can begin.
NOTE: Test and production MOA/ISA materials can be requested and processed at the same time.
Step #4 – CMSP and IPAWS Testing
The CMSP must test their solution with IPAWS, ensuring that the CMSP/service provider solution is compatible with IPAWS-OPEN.
The testing is typically scheduled to occur in blocks over several days, and typically can be completed in less than two weeks. When it’s concluded, a test report is generated and provided to the CMSP and the IPAWS office.
Step #5 – Production CMSP/IPAWS Connectivity Implementation
The IPAWS office WEA coordinator ensures that the appropriate test and production MOAs/ISAs are fully executed, testing has been completed, and the technical design for the connectivity is complete and approved.
Once all is in order, the implementation is scheduled with the CMSP, DHS and FEMA IPAWS office. Implementation typically takes four-to-six hours. Once it’s complete, the CMSP is considered to be operational and will be capable of receiving messages from alerting authorities for dissemination to the CMSP’s subscribers.